Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Taste of Mongolia in the Heart of China

Inner Mongolia was an experience that I will never forget. On one level, I saw one of the prettiest natural landscapes in the world. Then, I also saw a fairy tale Chinese wedding that was absolutely beautiful and unforgettable.

We took a fourteen-hour train to Inner Mongolia which was much better than I was expecting. Firstly, we all had beds on a three-tier bunk bed. Safety was fine, and it was actually pretty comfortable. Unfortunately, the bathroom was a nightmare, but this is something you are forced to accept in China.

Once we arrived, I was struck by how sudden the city appears out of the bare landscape. It is desert for miles, and then suddenly high-rises. That image of city emerging out of desolate barrenness pretty much captures the theme of Inner Mongolia’s rise. It has for most of its history been a remote and sparsely populated area of China until recently. Now, as my Inner Mongolian friend explained, it is the richest Chinese state. The reason for Inner Mongolia’s meteoric economic rise is the discovery of coal and other minerals. This discovery has led to a break-neck speed of construction of high-rises and streets filled with an incredible number of luxury cars.

However, all of this economic development has placed traditional Mongolian culture on the back burner. Inner Mongolia is on the verge of being majority Han Chinese rather than Mongolian, and Mongolian culture is increasingly a tourist novelty rather than an authentic feature of Inner Mongolian cities. But the beauty of the natural landscape will never change.

Once we arrived, the bride and groom had arranged for cars and hotels for all of the guests. We arrived to the hotel and ate traditional Mongolian food, which of course included the Mongolian national meat, lamb. It was the most delicious food I have eaten since being in China; especially the lamb which I have never really eaten in the US. The weekend that followed can only be described as a dream. The marrying couple had their own logo based off a traditional Chinese Valentine’s saying with the same pronunciation. It was catchy and cute and a grand affair with four hundred guests.

The day of the wedding, I saw first-hand some of the traditional Chinese customs for weddings. Firstly, the groom must fight off all of the bride’s family to get to his bride. They can force him to pay money, fight, sing songs, whatever they want. Then, when he gets her, he has to carry her to the wedding hall. The couple was beautiful, and they traveled to the wedding hall in a Rolls Royce and the guests followed in a variety of luxury cars behind them.

Finally, the ceremony was like a dream. There was a professional MC, live bands, plenty of toasting speeches and good times. I had a great time helping them to celebrate their special day, and it’s just another one of those travel stories I will never forget.

Kalisha Holmes

BA International Affairs, 2012

Sigur Center 2011 Asian Language Fellow

Peking University, Beijing, China

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