I’m back! Ha –and what a trip we've had.
It kind of hit us when we lined up at the gate at Hongqiao airport last Thursday night, and received a mix of curious and surprised glances from our fellow passengers (all Chinese). What on earth were 2 laowais doing going to Hohhot (or 呼和浩特 -Huhehaote in Mandarin –try saying that 5 times fast!) over the weekend? When we, 2,5 hours later, landed in a freezing, and somewhat deserted city, we started asking ourselves the same question. We seemed to be the only couple staying at the hotel (Holiday Inn on Zhongshan Lu –excellent location), and it felt kind of odd, walking through empty corridors to locate our room.
Terribly scared of being caught in one of those notorious sandstorms that we’ve heard about, we were delighted when we woke up the next morning and were greeted with an amazing blue sky and sunshine. We curiously peeked out of our hotel window, observing that locals were neither wearing scarves nor hats, but rather some pretty thin spring jackets. Although we are supposed to be Vikings at hearts (and not scared of the cold) I shivered at the thought of stepping outside in a thin jacket, and put on pretty much every single piece of clothing I had with me before hitting the streets.
After a bit of walking, however, I realized one thing:
What might have felt like “being cold” for the first, tentative 5 minutes of walking, quickly changed into “being hot” and then “feeling as if I’m in the middle of a sauna.” The air was super fresh, and the sun was beaming down from a clear blue sky (sorry for repeating myself, but I simply cannot get over that sky, it was as if someone had painted it blue with pastel colours!?). It wasn’t actually that cold during daytime! To tell you the truth, the weather was some of the best spring weather I’ve every experienced in China (and very similar to a Scandinavian spring).
Another observation: There were no other laowais on the streets of Huhehaote –causing us to become a miniature version of a circus show. No kidding –and no exaggeration. I’ve had my deal of being “stared at” in China, but this was something out of the ordinary (I suppose tourists are rare at this time of the year). While young people giggled and pointed, older people actually stopped right in front of us, staring at us with their mouths wide open. Some 846982364 people secretly took our photo (only ONE young guy actually asked! Nice young fella!) and one group of young people (3 girls and 2 guys) got so excited (?) that they decided to PUSH one of their friends at us while walking?! Very odd way to greet strangers.
Best of all, however, were the children. They were not hiding their excitement, screaming LAOWAI!!!! From the top of their lunges when they saw us, and then giggling following us around town. This happened numerous times, and at one point (in a shopping mall) we had a group of 6 kids following us around, screaming with delight every time my boyfriend turned around and said “hello!” to them.
During our first day we felt kind of uncomfortable about the constant staring that seemed to have no end. Even having breakfast at our hotel turned into a freak show, as we were stupid enough to pick a window table and ended up facing the busy Zhongshan street outside our window. Two women almost fell, as they were so busy looking at us, that they didn’t noticed the speed bump on the ground.
The hotel staff was professional, not giving us any special attention, or well, at least not until the first morning at the breakfast buffet, when I asked one of the chefs (in Chinese) if they had some more yoghurts. The next morning, as I was making myself a cup of coffee, one of the waiters showed up next to me, smiling and saying 早上好！(zaoshang hao! –goodmorning!). I happily replied and went back to my table. It didn’t take long for her to come up to me again:
-So it’s true what the chef told us? You can speak Chinese?!
-Yes I can, I said, thinking to myself that "wow, for the first time of my life, I've become hotel gossip!"
-That’s amazing! After the usual, compliment-deny-ritual, she asked me:
-What are you doing in Huhehaote at this time of the year?!
-Ehh… We want to see the grasslands… and ride ponies… I said, realizing how stupid it sounded the moment the words were out.
-But the grasslands are not green yet! And it’s very cold up there.. much colder than in the city.
-Ah… we are from Scandinavia. We are not scared of the cold, I said, tying to add a convincing tone into my voice.
That night, we could not help asking ourselves if we had made a mistake travelling to Inner Mongolia during the beginning of April. My childish dream of galloping across the grasslands felt rather naïve when I said it out loud. However, I’ve never been known for listening to what other people say, and the next morning we got up at 6am in order to travel to the grasslands of Xilamuren…
More about that tomorrow! Some pix from Huhehaote: