Saturday, 20 July 2019

Inner Mongolia... A Modern Ghost City!

My Inner Mongolia trip concluded in Ordos, a city that had a series of ambitious plans after the success of 2008s Beijing Summer Olympic Games. I had the chance to see for myself, why Ordos's newest district has been hailed 'a modern ghost city!' Turning back the hands of time, I was afforded the opportunity to visit a mausoleum that paid homage to Genghis Khan. Yes!

Leaving behind the peacefulness of the grasslands, I was more than ready to see a mausoleum that purely remembered a figure but didn't house any remains, just possessions and realia. The Mausoleum of Genghis Khan felt like a showpiece exhibition with its 90 something steps to the main hall that housed countless figures claiming to be part of his grand legacy, well if the truth be told they were carefully crafted replicas. No shade, I found the whole wondrous story of Khan's heroic Mongolian crusade very interesting indeed! He supposedly had three wives and a succession of children, but during that time his male children only bore value to him. Why had Genghis Khan been given this glowing mausoleum? I don't know too much about the history behind the battles he fought, it was safe to say this spectacle was more like a memorial because no physical remains of Khan are present. People did look quite intrigued by the whole thing! 

Inside the mausoleum all photography was banned, in China that doesn't necessarily mean that rule will be followed by all. In the case of Genghis Khan's place, I saw many of the staff scold people for taking any photos inside the sacred buildings. I knew nothing about Genghis Khan before that visit, as that mornings visit to the mausoleum continued it was really interesting to find out the tales of how the kingdom of Mongolia was fought over and how China's unification made way for their Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region to present day life. I found a rather intriguing monument that was only meant for men or boys to access, it was supposed to bestow great power in all male folk that walked round the circular path three times. If any women or girls accessed that shrine like structure they would be cast with bad luck, taking that warning at face value one woman wasn't aware of the female warning. My visit to Genghis Khan's Mausoleum was wrapped up with some Montessori shopping! 

Truthfully, I'm not usually a fan of museum's but each province in China has one provincial museum within each region. Appearing to be as modern as the year I was standing in, Ordos Museum received my attention with much interest. Like any provincial museum in China, admission to the museum was free! The museum would show me that most things in Ordos were pretty silent and to use a phrase such as 'ghostly'. Finding the most understandable Chinese exhibition was easy enough, I was transported back to pre-historic China to find out that the first Chinese people actually came from Ordos within China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. The whole exhibition fashioned the history that Inner Mongolia stood as China's version of Jurassic Park, complete with artifacts and pre-historic records for the first Chinese people originating in Ordos. Most of the exhibition was in Chinese, I read some.

The baking hot sun was unforgivable that afternoon, leaving the museum allowed me to see Ordos's Genghis Khan Square. The city centre masterpiece was a vision of a new city that looked brand new, no traffic could be seen nor were many people present in the streets or on the road. A huge government building fronted the head of the square, leading down to a parade of brand new landmarks such as a library, museum that I had been to and a glistening statue of Genghis Khan, aptly reminded me what the squares name was! I really enjoyed the local Inner Mongolia Chinese cuisine but I was gagging for a McDonalds, there was apparently one in the city but whether it was all for show? Everything seemed quite mysterious, the streets were so quiet and it was like no life could be felt within that supposed city centre space. Genghis Khan Square and the Ordos Museum were bizarre places, both presently beautifully but with no city life taking place. The best was for last! Yes, things looked 'ghostly!'

Before going to the airport in-preparation for my Beijing bound flight, I had just enough time to witness one of the most eeriest of sights that I had ever saw during my time in China to date! As mentioned before the successes of Beijing's hosting of 2008s Summer Olympic Games caused a frenzy of construction in the newest district of Ordos City, with a fault in the plan I was able to witness an uninterrupted view of a modern ghost city for myself! At the foot of Genghis Khan Square lay a well positioned line of shiny new skyscrapers, some fronted the logos belonging to a series of well known Chinese businesses. The new development appeared to be frozen in time, it reminded me of something that I had saw in a neighbouring country that possessed no life or buzz. My guide informed me that a hefty price was being paid to keep the silent development looking presentable. That view really put the cat amongst the pigeons! 

Directly captured above, I witnessed a solitary row of apartment buildings that existed beside the sleeping financial centre that wasn't trading. Those apartments had been built with much anticipation, word on the street was that these apartment hadn't got people living within the units. Driving to the airport allowed me to see the desolate streets that surrounded those ghost city dwellings, the kindergartens looked empty as well as any other businesses could only be seen operating at minimum capacity. Moreover, it was amazing to see that construction hadn't stopped during that scorchingly hot July afternoon. Ordos was mad, beginning with the showcase Genghis Khan Mausoleum to then the pre-historic finds at the city's own museum entertained my alternative touristy side. Finally, the frozen nature of the waterfront city centrepieces and apartments really served up something unforgettable. Arriving back into Beijing was a blessing, lets just say it was an eventful night! Oh, Ordos! 

Spooky Stuff! 

Joseph Harrison 

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Inner Mongolia... Sand Dunes, Pagodas & Grasslands!

Leaving Baotou at a reasonable time in the morning was fine with me, the short drive away from the city took me towards Inner Mongolia's famous grasslands. Before the grasslands it was going to be all about desserts, camels and a certain pagoda park. Dalateqi was certainly a small town but I found a few things to try out! Oh, Inner Mongolia definitely served the goods! 

Was I in the Sahara Desert? No, I had arrived at Dalad's Xiangshawan soon after the short drive from Baotou! Known in English as 'Whistling Dune Bay' I was certainly faced with some epic desert style sand dunes that morning! Saying no to the first cable car was a mutual feeling shared with my tour guide, Cherish. We decided that taking the bus would be a better choice, met with a pirate-ship style dune truck led us to the main sand platform. It was near impossible to capture any clear photos during that ride but the views were sensational! It was hilarious to see how some of the domestic Chinese tourists covered themselves up from the sun, it was a cloudy day but they were still cautious not to get bronzed! Camels? Setting the perfect Mongolian theme, there were so many camels! Taking photos for my students, they were able to join me! I saw some walking across the dunes but was I heck getting on one, no chance!

I enjoyed the speed of the dune buggies and they warranted the ticket price, I wouldn't usually go on such things but it was holiday and being in such a different environment it seemed like a great idea! Finding somewhere to sit, I enjoyed several beers as my view of the sand dunes impressed me much. The area reminded me of the Sand Lake in Yinchuan but my Inner Mongolian view looked a tad more touristy and no lake was present, it was a similar contrast but all good in the end. Finding a place to lounge around for a while with a few cold beers was just what I needed that afternoon. Finally, I could relax! The pace of the itinerary for that day was nice and slow, the mornings and afternoons activities at the dunes fared to be just enough. I managed to find some mini yurts for my students to discover back at school as part of a new language material! So, the sand dunes were brilliant, a different for me during my Inner Mongolian trip within one of China's few autonomous regions.

Leaving the sand dunes behind us prevailed to be the best thing, checking into my hotel was a welcomed blessing. The area that surrounded my hotel was so quiet and unappealing, I had to make my own entertainment, a few tricks were played that afternoon and evening! Amused for sure, I was afforded the chance to visit Dalateqi's very own Baita Pagoda Park. The mode of transport wasn't a taxi or a bus, I bagged myself a Jaguar ride down to the park in-question. I liked the ordinary vibe as the local people were shocked to see a foreigner, but it was all in a very endearing way. The visit to the park was brief but it gave me a snapshot of Dalateqi's town centre, even though the scene was quiet and underdeveloped it gave me the opportunity to get creative with my time. The fact it was so unassuming of a place, I had my first hotel cancel on me for being a foreigner! That's actually quite common in China! Yes, C!

The addition to the day wasn't planned, I had found the park on my Chinese style TripAdvisor like APP. I would like to think I'm getting good at living in China after almost four years under my belt! My evening in Dalateqi didn't see me dine at any restaurants, I ordered a takeaway to my hotel and enjoyed it in my room as I caught up with of my blogs. The evening was nice, I had no reason to leave the comfort of the room because the weather was absolutely awful, even though the rain poured and poured I had faith the grasslands would still look great the next day! My day had been packed with lots of surprises, sand dunes and a surprise park, with Dalateqi's unassuming nature allowed me to further create my own entertainment. Let's just say that for a quiet place I made sure I enjoyed my afternoon and overnight in Dalateqi. With a very early wake-up call for the next morning, I had a very restful nights sleep in my super comfy room, it was a welcomed change!

The long drive from Dalateqi to Ordos Grassland Scenic Area neared its final stages, the scenery started to change dramatically. The lush grasslands and occasional herds of cattle and flocks of sheep sure transported me back home. The rolling fields of green reminded me of the English countryside with elements of Wales's greener pastures also. Arriving at the yurt resort was such a relief, I was ready to explore the grasslands and then some! Taking in the lush views wasn't difficult even though I witnessed a mild portion of tourist money-makers, I didn't all of them no mind. Following the raised path took me closer to three Mongolian Yurts that stood in the distance. Taking some photos for memory had to be done, grabbing two lamb kebabs had me conflicted as a little lamb stared back at me! The yoghurt was sweet, I wasn't paying any attention to the cosplay photos that were going on around me. No!

The sunshine and the glowing green grasslands sent me into a state of chill, it was holiday! I was willing to embrace a certain level of tourist, I called it a day after finding the viewing point after lunch in the restaurant I found some good beer, taking a sun lounger for myself it was time to do some serious relaxing! With an amazing view in tow, finally having some time to relax I kicked back and allowed the sun to turn me a different shade of red! I didn't pay attention to the time because the views were idyllic, the lush greenness of the grasslands surprised me due to the desertification of China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. I was definitely the only non-Chinese person in the whole resort, no lie! How the sun got a little bit too much for me, the blazing sunshine had given me that glow, I needed some shade in my very yurt before my evening meal. Being in the middle of nowhere in the heart of Inner Mongolia's grasslands made me feel one million miles away from Beijing!

My trip to Inner Mongolia had been a rollercoaster ride, only when the hotels were concerned because Baotou's offerings were frightfully basic whilst Dalad's room for the night served plush comfort! Deep in the wilderness of the Ordos Grasslands Scenic Area, the accommodation was something different for all the right reasons. Personally, I had envisaged my grassland abode to be a family run yurt but the one that I stayed in was formed perfectly for the stay. Travelling solo on a regular meant I had lots of space to stretch out in my own circular room for the night, also I found Wi-Fi in the middle of 内蒙古! Tea was lovely, I spent time talking with my tour guide, Cherish. The conversation was real because we agreed about a lot of things in life, great minds definitely think alike! I indulged myself by having a bottle of Inner Mongolian red wine for the win, it all tasted delicious and with the rich food it was a beautiful meal!

As the night rolled in, the walk back to my yurt was magical for the sky glittered with stars and showcased three colours rather than a blanket of pollution as in Beijing. The cool breeze turned into a chillier feeling, the night was setting in and that was just fine with me. Going back to the yurt had to be done because it was getting late and it didn't seem like any entertainment was going on? I had noticed that the yurts that were both closer to the restaurant and connected to the reception had air conditioning, what for though? During the nighttime in the heat of summer it was chilled, the A/C was meant to heat the rooms up! I bedded down for the night, cosy and comfortable with my blankets and pillows in my very own Mongolian Yurt in the heart of the Grasslands of Ordos! The whole time spent in Dalateqi and the Grasslands had been amazing, different for all the right reasons but altogether very freeing to be away from everyday life. That nights sky though!

Inner Mongolian Glamping?

Joseph Harrison 

Sunday, 14 July 2019

Inner Mongolia... Baotou, China!

Yes, Nèi Méng Gǔ! My summer holiday had finally arrived, packing my hand luggage and my sense of adventure I headed for Beijing Railway Station to reach my first Inner Mongolia destination! Baotou would be the first of three places visited in under 4 days, that included the overnight train from Beijing to Baotou. I was so ready to see another of China's autonomous regions!

Boarding my Z317 overnight train from Beijing Railway Station to Baotou was like a piece of cake! Reading those Chinese signs led me to my hard sleeper bottom bunk, it was a major relief not to repeat the same experience that I endured from Dandong to Beijing. Comfortable with much needed air conditioning being fed into the carriage and the motion of the train rocked me to sleep, don't snore otherwise you'll be reprimanded! My deepest apologises but such behaviour won't ever be tolerated! Waking up to views of Hohhot's rolling countryside impressed me much, at that point my train only had one hour till it reached my Baotou destination. The skies were looking mighty blue, checking my pollution APP revealed to me that no significant pollutants were in the air within that Inner Mongolian corner of China! My summer holiday had started, leaving the busy semester behind felt like heaven! Yes, yes BAO!

Meeting my tour guide Cherish was no problem at all, with my evening meal the previous night the only thing I had eaten up until then I was feeling pretty hungry, I needed breakfast! Heading across the road from Baotou Railway Station allowed me to grab something to eat before the days itinerary started. Heading to Baotou's Wudang Zhao Lamasery allowed me to see the unfolding beauty with my own eyes, the construction sites of the city melted away as the rolling lush green hilly scenery came into view, it felt like a different world compared with my corner of Beijing City. The air was fresh and the sky was the bluest that I had ever seen for a long time, well it was pollution free and no fierce winds were present, it was bliss. I was looking forward to seeing a place that reminded me of the Tibetan monasteries that I had seen in Lhasa. Baotou wasn't originally part of my tour, I opted to add the days excursions to my tour package for my Inner Mongolian summer experience. Baotou, go, go!

Now that we had found Baotou's Wudang Zhao Lamasery, I could be transported back to a piece of Tibetan beauty since leaving the heavenly city of Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region. Living for the ultra blue skies during that mornings hour, catching glimpse of some buddha inspired boulders and stones that led to the lamasery's East  Mountain. The fluttering red, blue, white and yellow flags danced in the breeze as the Inner Mongolian sky allowed the clouds above to float by so effortlessly, I was loving that rare moment of calm and then some. As the monastery came into sight I had some amazing flashbacks to when I had the immense opportunity to explore Lhasa's Sera Monastery, those white washed walls and slanted Tibetan style pleased me to no end! My decision to enhance my China Highlights experience in Baotou was worth every Yuan spent! For certain, I felt a higher love for Tibetan Buddhism.

The rich interiors of the Lamasery allowed the memories of Tibet and the previous semester infuse, the latter had been settled. Lunch took a different angle, embracing the change it was a great chance to try some local cold noodles and some Inner Mongolian yoghurt. Both the noodles and the yoghurt tasted lovely, with such scorching temperatures it was a relief to have something chilled for lunch during the afternoons heat. More about those noodles, known as 'Liangpi' I really enjoyed their sesame taste. Back on the road towards the city once again, the views captured from all directions gave me a sense that I was not in Houshayu, Beijing anymore! Stepping out of the car to see some Tibetan Buddhist flags was really nice, seeing them fluttering in the breeze with the rolling green scenery as the backdrop. The peacefulness of the Lamasery and the lush surroundings had me feeling all kinds of goodness within China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Baotou had it all sorted!

If truth be told I wasn't sure what Baotou's Northern Weapon City was all about, with an open mind I was willing to find out for myself. At first glance I saw a gaggle of silver tourists who were arguing in Chinese that they qualified for the senior entry price, it was amusing to be able to understand what they were complaining about in Chinese. Informed by my tour advisor, this Baotou attraction was something of an outdoor showroom for old Chinese artillery, fighter jets and armoured vehicles that were either used before the People's Republic of China was created before October 1st, 1949. Taking a stroll around the grounds of the Northern Weapon City allowed me to see similarities with Pyongyang's Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum due to such items from combat that were on display, similarities all the same as Pyongyang's military back-catalogue hailed from a different time and combat. Next B!

The days sightseeing had almost concluded, before going to the hotel we stopped a what looked like a normal roundabout. I had done some pre-trip research to find that Baotou was the city of deers, scouting down that roundabout revealed the 'Deer Monument'. I had requested to see during my day in Baotou, for the reason it represented the meaning of the city. Content with the days offerings it was time to check-into the hotel, funnily enough we were all staying at the Baotou Hotel. I had booked this hotel independently on the grounds it was cheap for the one night spent in the city. Needless to say I was taken by surprise, the questionable quality of the hotel was below sub-standard but for one night I made the best of that low quality accommodation. My next hotel and Mongolian Yurt would prove better options for the remaining nights. It wasn't right but it was okay because the whole day had gone smoothly, from the train station pick to seeing the three places mentioned above.

Famous for its lamb, beef, milk and yoghurt, I wanted to try some local Inner Mongolian Chinese food during my one night stop in Baotou. After consulting my 'DianPing' Chinese style 'TripAdvisor' like APP, I had found a local chain restaurant called '西贝'. My chosen Baotou restaurant served me up a delightfully hearty serving of roasted lamb chops with onions and sliced potatoes. The sliced roast potatoes weren't part of the meal but with potatoes plentiful and cheap in China, I asked in Chinese if I could combine a third option for my first Inner Mongolian meat feast. The answer was 'yes', after waiting patiently for my food I enjoyed my lamb chops without a care in the world. Finished with my main course, it seemed only right to finish my evening meal with a chilled Inner Mongolian yoghurt. With my stomach satisfied it was time for me to be civilised for once, an early night would be on the cards for me. Not bad!

My restful nights sleep was very much needed! The overnight train from Beijing to Baotou was a cinch, things from there to the Wudang Zhao Lamasery progressed in a smooth fashion with only a slight alteration for lunch. Those chilled noodles and yoghurt helped the scorching temperatures and the used artillery at the Northern Weapon City interested me. The natural blue skies gave me life, with no pollution in air it was like breathing in new air into a new set of lungs. The hotel may have been sketchy but my early morning pursuit for a KFC breakfast the next day allowed me to see that outside the big smoke of Beijing, a passerby thought I looked lost as I unknowingly looked for share bike, the thought counted! Shantay, he could stay! Starbucks was playing games, not opening until 9am! Nobody has any time for that negativity! Regrouping the next morning before 8am allowed us to depart from Baotou for our next destination without any hitches. Why yes CN, Baotou served it all!

Boss Baotou!

Joseph Harrison 

Saturday, 6 July 2019

Sanlitun, Beijing: After Hours!

Hailed as one of Beijing's premier nightspots, a night out within Sanlitun's party district was on the cards for that Saturday! After living in Beijing for over 18 months, I have become pretty familiar with my favourite haunts and how navigate those city centre streets during the small hours. Getting over the hangover from another booze fuelled night had to be the one! Get it!

Genuinely speaking, I had originally planned to spend the afternoon at the second 'Haus of Lily' drag brunch but due to an impromptu night out with some Shunyi friends I just about made it for my 'Blue Frog' dinner with my friend Chanel. Recovering from that Friday night out with a very large blue cocktail was the only cure for me in that moment! Refuelled and re-toxed, I had decided to spend the night in a local Tuanjiehu hotel that was only a short distance from my first Sanlitun nightspot. Leaving my hotel, I made sure that afternoon that I was dressed to impressed! Out for myself, living the truth that I was worthy enough to be my own soulmate, I was ready to marry the night! My hearty 'Blue Frog' dinner had me covered, stopping for a street side snack had to be done before the true boozing recommenced. Watching the world go by from my street side spot felt good, my area can get awfully silent! Damn, I'm the one B! 

Centrally located in the heart of Beijing's Chaoyang District, it was a sight to be seen for me because my Houshayu corner of Beijing leaves me feeling wanting some lights and action when Saturday rolls into town. That central corner of Beijing's City had been my go-to remedy to relieve the stresses of work after a hectic week, that weekend was no different to any other but I felt a sense to take things slow. Slow? No, from the respect I was able to begin the night in the thick of it! Finishing my snacks, I made my way closer to my first watering hole of the night because those afternoon drinks had been consumed much earlier. Back in Wuhan it was all about groups going out, apart from getting wrecked with a special Scottish sister friend, things were rather basic! Beijing life has allowed me to reconnect with my independent flex, if you're basic its a no go! With the nighttime drawing on, I made some serious steps ahead to the next phase of my night! I was ready for all the debauchery! 

Let me keep this 100% because I usually go straight to the club but that Saturday night I wanted to soak in every part of that night out! Fronting Sanlitun SoHo since our previous encounter, the previous instance I was very boozy! It was absolutely heaving, mixed with families and young people who were enjoying their evening as the twilight hour approached, the noise and lights impressed me much! Dashing towards a drink, I was done with the noise and people going about their Sanlitun SoHo time! I was thirsty! Revisiting Red Dog was the right thing to do, it was the first Gay venue before I got to my regular places that were on Workers Stadium Road. I had previously been to Red Dog to see their Vogue contest, it was a different scene compared to what I'm used in Beijing but it was worth me revisiting for those revitalising mixed drinks that Saturday night! Voguing in China? Yes, these fierce Beijing queens serve! 

Red Dog had given me those key first drinks, onto Workers Stadium Road for some real 'rainbow' nightlife! Albeit, Red Dog has been a new edition to my Beijing Gay night scene, I allowed its bougie nature to carry on with itself whilst I sipped my mixed drink. I know I can get bougie from time to time, no shade! I usually get my taxi from Houshayu to drop me off in the thick of Sanlitun's party street, doing things differently I walked through a myriad of dimly lit winding streets with my iPhone as my helping hand, not that I needed help. Feeling my spirit rise, I was back in my domain with Beijing's underground bars in a pretty commercial environment it was like coming home! For a country that gets into its feeling about anything that's less than traditional, after coming to Beijing it was a revelation to find four top venues that embraced the rainbow side of society! Going underground my night was about to get scandalous! So, I had my wits about me though, because I'm a danger to myself! 

Moon, with its bright red fridge like door had my attention from the very first night it was opened. As if luck would had it there were two gorgeous guys dancing on the centrally located podiums, wearing almost just their birthday suits I had to take a moment to check that view out! The drinks were truly flowing, the weekend was happening in full force and I didn't care about a single thing! Migrating to Kai served something that I front in there on a regular, a queen who pushes or shoves isn't cute or clever! For me Kai gives me the best people watching opportunities within Beijing's close-knit Gay venues, those lip and cheek injectables could be seen from a mile, girl! I assumed my rightful place on the dance podium, some queens really needed to calm down and let me execute my moves! Not appreciating their temperament I enjoyed what time I spent in Kai to the best of my living ability! They knew I would be back to shake it bad! 

Kai may have had some spatially confused queens, paying them no mind I finished my drinks before moving onto the nights final venue, Destination. Sometimes I wondered how these pushy queens would find their impatient ways in a LGBT venue in the UK? Pushing and shoving isn't big and quite frankly its pointless! Scanning my AliPay payment, I headed straight for the bar to get my Destination Blue concoction! Queuing can sometimes get interesting whilst in Destination, playing by the rules I made to the dance floor to get lost into the music! Famed for being the biggest and most famous of Gay clubs in China, no matter how crowded it gets I keep finding myself back at Destination in Beijing! Bumping into a friend around the seating area outside had the night take a different avenue. Would it? No way! I wasn't going to allow any foolishness! The night was mine from the very beginning and it was going to be mine to finish with! So, Beijing showed me another night out of mayhem! Yes!

Over The Rainbow!

Joseph Harrison