Hohhot, Inner Mongolia
One of my early posts, so watch out for the diary like quality!
Being new FTs, Matthew sent David and I to Hohhot, the capital of Inner Mongolia to meet up with the new FTs there and have some Aston training delivered to us. Luke decided to come with us, as it would give him a chance to explore a new Inner Mongolian city.
However the evening before we left, we all met in a restaurant and Matthew said ‘come on, let’s choose our dinner.’ Worried that we were going to choose something live, we ventured over to the fridge to find legs of lamb, phew! Once we’d chosen the one we wanted, it got semi-cooked, then brought over to our table and placed over hot coals to finish cooking. We were also given long knives and forks (the first I’d seen in China!) to carve the meat off, as well as our chopsticks obviously. On a side note, I’m getting more adept at using the buggers, though noodles are still completely out of my league! We also had a few beers and someone suggested getting some Baijiu [buyjo]. Now for the uninitiated, Baijiu is a very strong Chinese spirit, something like sake, but not and a similar strength to vodka, and sometimes more. Everyone thought it would be a good idea to celebrate with a bottle, and a couple of shots later, I wasn’t regretting it surprisingly. After the restaurant we went in search of another bar, but as Ordos is currently being judged as ‘Best small city’ nothing seemed to be open so we ended up in a pool bar, myself playing really badly!
Anyway, back to Hohhot. David and I had little leg room for starters so I was a little annoyed. The bus ride there was fairly eventful. If you’ve never been to Asia, you will not realise how little people take notice of road sense, or safety on the road. I have already mentioned the regularity of the use of car horns, and the bus driver was no exception. Over-taking, under-taking and driving in the hard shoulder is all common behaviour in China. Luke reassured us, (I’m still not sure that’s the right word!) that this was still fairly safe driving in China. We saw some great scenery on the way though, which definitely makes me want to travel more in Inner Mongolia. We drove until we hit a mountainous area then just followed the base of the mountains until we got to Hohhot.
Having got to Hohhot in once piece thankfully, we grabbed some food and were met by CTs from the Aston school and taken to the hotel we would be staying in for the next 3 days. Luckily for us, the hotel was on the floor below the school, so at least we could get up later than usual for the training in the mornings.
After dumping our bags we went upstairs to visit the school and found that it was a little bigger than ours. The FTs, Paul (Plymouth), Colm (Ireland), Kurt (Canada) and Faisal (London) soon finished and they pointed us in the direction of a bar we could go to whilst they ate. ‘David Bar’ was pretty cool (David enjoying it being named after him), it labelled itself as a Spanish bar, but we thought it felt more like a pirate’s bar.
We were having a merry old time when a band started to play. The Hohhot FTs had given us an idea about the band, as they played every night, but to be honest I was surprised when the guy started singing Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, Guns ‘n’ Roses and the Beatles, adopting the relevant twang to the voice depending on the singer. For someone who apparently can’t speak English very well, it was an awesome show. They played about 4/5 songs then had a break and in one of these breaks Faisal had a go on the keyboards, playing ‘The Scientist’ and another song to a pretty good standard. We had a great evening singing along and by the time we left a 2.30am, we’d all bonded pretty well which was cool.
The only downside to getting in at 2.30am, was the fact that training was on at 9am the next day. What was even more unfortunate was, after getting up for 9am, at 10am we were told that the trainer wasn’t even in the city yet, and was going to be arriving that evening. Cue a few disgruntled sounds. However we made the most of it and had (ashamedly) a hangover breakfast of McDonalds. It was weird having Western food after having so much Chinese food but we all pretty much needed it! We all walked off the Maccy D’s by having a wander through the streets, taking in the sights. We even walked into what looked like an old Chinese temple, only it turned out to be a mosque and, being the only woman, it made me feel uncomfortable as when I visited mosques in Malaysia I had to cover my head. However, no-one stopped us, but I didn’t linger long. Afterwards, a few of the guys decided to crash, but as I’m not one who is able to nap, Luke and I went for a stroll a bit further away, in order to try and find a proper Chinese temple. And find one we did.
We paid 30RMB (around £3) to get in and it was only once we were inside we found out how large it was!
In Chinese, it is known as Dazhao (literally big ranch/temple). It was a labyrinth of courtyards, with buildings beautifully painted. It’s obvious that they keep it well painted for tourists, as it seemed like Chinese tourists went there too, however they had one room at the back where you could tell it had not been touched because of the dust all on the walls. As you can see, there were many golden statues, with small side temples dedicated to various different Gods. It’s definitely something straight out the guidebook, and Luke even mentioned that it was similar to the Forbidden City in Beijing, and maybe even better. I obviously have loads more photos, but just limited it to these few!
We wandered back to the hotel for a bit of a chill before eating out at a nice little place around the corner and the guys all got beers which they drank in the park (obviously not something you can do in the UK anymore it seems!). Having had a late night the previous night, I was not expecting to have another late one. But, despite being in a bit of a boy’s club (good job I am not a prude and very thick skinned!) Luke, Faisal , Paul and I ended up going to a club, my first experience of a Chinese club.
We were lucky in the fact that Paul’s friend was in the VIP area and we did not pay for any drinks, (diluted whiskey), but what was even better was the fact that there were other FTs from other English schools who were girls. Having spent pretty much a week in the company of mostly boys, it was quite nice to have a chat with some girls and I got on pretty well with a girl called Naomi. After leaving the club, she took us along with all the other FTs to a little restaurant on what can only be described as a street bomb site. It was in the middle of being repaired. Not before a couple of Chinese lads collared me outside the club to ask me where I was from may I add! Anyway, at the little restaurant we had something called Shaukau (BBQ-ed meat) and beer. Ended up back at the hotel at 3am, but luckily Paul had already given us the idea of a 10am start so that was pretty good.
The next day in training wasn’t too bad. I wasn’t hungover, which was a bonus and I also found out, from talking about working in Italy, that our trainer, Peter, had worked with Steph! (For those that don’t know, Steph is a good friend from uni who recommended China to me in the first place). Training was nothing I hadn’t heard before, but it’s always good to reiterate stuff every now and again and have a better idea of how Aston do things.
That evening we joined all the Hohhot staff for a welcome meal at a buffet place, and we also had a birthday cake for Faisal, who was turning 22 the next day. We ended up back in David Bar, drank vodka and beer and heard more of the band. Colm also managed to ask them to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Faisal at midnight too, so that was great. I think those guys are going to become very well known in that bar over the next year. The waiters are really cool though, one bought over my change and told me that I was a ‘very beautiful woman’ and tried to get me to say that I was from England in Chinese, bless him. Another great night in Hohhot was once again complete, also adding to my tally of the fact that I had drunk every night in China thus far.
We had a couple more hours of training the next morning before Luke, David and I caught the bus back to Ordos at 1.20pm. A bit more of an eventful journey on the way back with 3 crashes we had to manoeuvre past. I slept most of the way, though David did inform me that whilst I’d been sleeping there was almost another crash right in front of us. At least this time we had leg room though! Travel in Inner Mongolia is crazy! We met up with Johan and Phil for tea before having, what is a rarity for me at the moment, an early night.
I think that’s enough to whet your appetites for the time being so I’ll leave it there.