418 Photos - Sep 5, 2012
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Nadaam is the yearly "manly games festival," where young men compete in horse-racing, wrestling, and archery. This year's wrestling champion was on the cover of Mongolian GQ at the supermarket.Photo: Photo: Photo: Photo: Mr. Bold's wife is an accomplished seamstress, and taught us how to make Mongolian knot buttons while the men were offered vodka and cigarettes by Mr. Bold.Photo: Mr. Bold really knows how to pack an ox cart!Photo: This is my fourth and final homestay. I didn't get any pictures of this family, for a couple of reasons:
1. I barely saw the dad, as he had to go far off into the hills to look after his herd of cattle.
2. The couple had two sons, one of whom lives in Ulaanbaatar. The other one was killed in a horse-riding accident.
3. The mother is a shaman, and shamans do not allow pictures to be taken of themselves or their shamanistic objects.Photo: This is Terelj Village, a 2.5-hour bus ride from Ulaanbaatar. This is where my first host family picked me up and my last host family dropped me off (after fording a river in an oxcart).Photo: The next stop on my trip was Erdos, Inner Mongolia to visit my friend Namka Midog, who grew up in the area.Photo: Between the Erdos airport and Erdos itself is Kangbashi. This is one of China's ghost cities. It did not exist five years ago, and although it is a beautiful place, many buildings are unfinished. The city is also largely empty, as the average citizen cannot afford to live there.Photo: Photo: Photo: In the center of town are massive statues heralding Genghis Khaan's achievements.Photo: Photo: This is me with Namka (on the left) and one of her younger sisters, a local schoolteacher.Photo: Namka's sister's school helped subsidize the cost for her to buy a condo in one of the new high-rises.Photo: This is because the school is being rebuilt in Kangbashi. The complex holds an elementary, middle, and high school, all geared specifically towards children who are ethnically Mongolian.Photo: Photo: Photo: This is the village Namka is from. It's about a 2.5 hour bus ride from Kangbashi. Namka also pointed out to me that most of those buildings were not there when she was growing up.Photo: One of Namka's younger brothers owns a general store in the village. This is me with him, his wife, and their 19-year-old daughter. The picture is too far away to tell, but they all have incredibly beautiful sea-green eyes. Namka and her siblings were also all born with blonde hair.

The sign in the back contains the traditional Mongolian script in addition to Chinese characters.Photo: A new railroad bisects the Midog's land. Unfortunately, not only is the railroad not in use due to lack of funds to finish it, it also cut off some natural drainage routes. As had just rained heavily for 3 days, we got stranded in one of the underpasses built for the local farmers to get from field to field.Photo: Photo: Photo: After about an hour of digging, pushing, and pulling, Namka's brother carried the two of us to dry land.Photo: He continued to work on the truck...Photo: The railroad also flooded his fields, ruining his corn crop.Photo: Namka's mother lives in a traditional Chinese family complex.Photo: In a traditional Mongolian family, the youngest son inherits, so Namka's youngest brother, his wife, and their two kids also live with her mom.Photo: Photo: Photo: You can see the railroad in the distance.Photo: Photo: Photo: Namka told me that every family in her area has a shrine like this. The two poles are Genghis Khaan's battle standard. Much of the country practices Buddhism in addition to shamanism, so family shrines also have prayer flags.Photo: Photo: Photo: Photo: In the distance is the edge of the desert; I assume it's the Gobi.Photo: Although the structures seem modern, the roof truly was thatch!Photo: Namka's niece attends school in Mandarin, but also has to study Mongolian and English.

Her nephew is not in school yet, so he only speaks Mongolian.

They patiently taught me the numbers 1-10. When they weren't in stitches over my horrid pronunciation, that is!Photo: Namka is a professor in the Minority Studies department at Xinjiang University in Urumqi, so my next stop was a trip to Urumqi with her.

Here is along the road to Turpan, an old Silk Road stop about 2 hours outside of Urumqi.Photo: I was in both Turpan and Urumqi 8 years ago. Back then, this was a dirt road.Photo: Photo: In the distance are the Flaming Mountains. This area gets intensely hot in the summer, and the mountains turn a flaming red color. It was 43 degrees Celsius on the day I visited!Photo: Namka arranged for two visiting Mongolian friends of hers and I to join a Chinese tour group. Our first stop was a souvenir shop.Photo: It turns out we weren't supposed to take pictures at this store... I'm glad I got this one, though!Photo: The jade pieces were beautiful, but sold for what seemed like American prices!Photo: When I visited Xinjiang in 2004, it still felt very Middle Eastern. This time, the Chinese presence was palpable. When I visited Turpan before, we had to hire a driver; now there are tour buses galore at every stop.Photo: The areas we drove through seemed more like the Turpan I remember...Photo: One of our stops was an "authentic" Uighur village. It all felt very made up to me.Photo: Photo: The grapes were real, though! Xinjiang is known for its grapes and raisins.Photo: Photo: Buildings like this are where they dry the grapes and make raisins.Photo: The gal in blue is our tour guide. This was an area with wax grapes where tourists could take pictures.Photo: Photo: Photo: This is an ancient city I went to 8 years ago. The dilapidated structures still look pretty much the same, but it is very much NOT the peaceful place I remember...Photo: Photo: Photo: Photo: Photo: Photo: Photo: Photo: Photo: Photo: Photo: The language on the left is the Uighur script.Photo: Photo: Photo: Photo: Photo: Photo: There may be more tourists, but it's now a UNESCO World Heritage Sight. So, hopefully it will stay awe-inspiring.Photo: Photo: Photo: We also went to a museum dedicated to the Uighur nationality. (Also spelled Uygur or Uyghur.) Xinjiang is the Uighur Autonomous Region.Photo: Photo: I'm still not entirely sure whether these people actually live here or not...Photo: Photo: Photo: Photo: We also had a traditional Uighur meal, complete with performers doing traditional Uighur dances.Photo: Photo: This was the one building in Turpan proper that I remembered from 8 years ago.Photo: Back in Urumqi, Namka took us to visit another Chinese minority, the Kazakhs.Photo: This place was also popular with Chinese tourists. Namka, who has studied the Kazakhs, pointed out that they typically live much more spread apart.Photo: Photo: Namka was very frustrated with the amount of trash on the ground. She feels that Han people (the Chinese majority) are very disrespectful of the environment, and that they don't appreciate their surroundings.Photo: This is Namka.Photo: Photo: Photo: Naheya, on the left, and Nameya, on the right, are sisters from Hohhot, in Inner Mongolia. Naheya is studying Mongolian history at Indiana University, and met Namka when she went to IU to give a lecture. In a wonderful stroke of coincidence, Naheya, Nameya, and I all visited Namka in Xinjiang at the same time.Photo: Photo: We opted to hike up the hill instead of paying to ride horses...Photo: An oven for making nang, a staple in Xinjiang. Nang is like the Indian naan; essentially pizza dough without toppings.Photo: Photo: Kazakhs are Muslim, so the women cover their heads.Photo: The kazakh yurts are very similar to Mongolian gers, but with a more conical top.Photo: This woman made us some traditional Kazakh food for lunch.Photo: ...with some help from her 6-year-old daughter, who manned the meat skewers on the grill.Photo: While this lucky calf found someone's water bucket!Photo: Photo: Urumqi was also nothing like I remembered it. It used to feel like a small town, and now it is a sprawling metropolis. The Chinese government has been actively developing areas in the Autonomous Regions.Photo: These are not the best pictures, but I think they give some sense of daily life in Urumqi... This woman is most likely Uighur.Photo: Uighur men wear beautiful embroidered hats. If a man is the most educated man in his family, he wears one that is green.Photo: Photo: Signage is in both Uighur and Chinese. Most of the Uighur people I met spoke Mandarin, but with a distinct accent.Photo: Photo: The towers in the background belong to a bazaar called Dabazha. It was a rather dusty bazaar in 2004, but has now become very commercialized and touristy.Photo: Experiencing Dabazha with Namka was very interesting. She made sure to tell vendors that she is not Han Chinese. I felt a lot of ethnic tension in the bazaar.Photo: Photo: The rows down the middle held all kinds of dried fruit (tons of varieties of raisins), spices, and nuts.Photo: Across the street is Erdaqiao, another bazaar that feels much more authentic. This was the only other landmark I recognized from my prior trip.

The vendors in Erdaqiao were much friendlier; I got the sense that they have fewer tourists, and thus less ethnic tension. Although that may just be my reading into things too much...Photo: This is a horribly focused picture, but the only one I have of a carpet vendor... Oriental carpets are everywhere in Urumqi! Some are silk, some wool, some nylon...Photo: Naheya bought some hair dye from these two Uighur women, and they let me take a picture with them. They were very sweet!Photo: The final leg of my trip was a couple of days visiting old friends in Taipei. I got stranded in Shanghai for a day due to a large typhoon that grounded all flights.

If you look carefully, you can see a road that collapsed after the typhoon. My friend and I meant to go hiking, but needed to take that road to get into the mountains. Oh, well...Photo: This is my good friend Chen Borong, who is a captain in the Taiwanese military. He works at the Presidential Palace; way cool!Photo: Since we couldn't go on our hike, we settled for a visit to a park with a view of the ocean.Photo: Over the course of my trip, I was in muggy Shanghai, dry and hot Inner Mongolia, cold and rainy Mongolia proper, crazy hot Xinjiang, and rainforest Taiwan. I came down with a cold when I got back; I think my body was confused... It was well worth it, though!!!