Inner Mongolia Travel: Wǔ Yuán

In which I visit one of the Chinese teacher’s family home

I went to Daisy’s on Sunday, which meant buying a bus ticket on my own. I went on Friday to buy the ticket for Sunday, no problem as Daisy had written down her home town. Despite the ticket lady trying to sell me a ticket for the same day, I managed to explain, in broken Chinese, that I wanted the ticket for Sunday. Sorted.

A 4 hour bus journey later (my first on my own and good practice for the probable journey I shall be making to Xi’an, though 8 hours instead of 4) I arrived in the town of Wǔ Yuán, Daisy’s home town. It’s a lot smaller than Dongsheng/Ordos and is clearly a farmer town, as no sooner did we leave it to go to Daisy’s village we hit countryside and fields.

The area reminded me of some of the Kent countryside, i.e. when we’ve gone to the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway, it looks like a scene from around there, but at the moment a lot browner because it’s the dead of winter. Daisy’s village is about as far from Wǔ Yuán as we are from Shaftesbury at home (for those that know the distance – for those that don’t, a 25 minute drive!). Daisy’s family are farmers and it was lovely to be back in the countryside.

SHEEP!

CHICKENS!

During the summer months, the fields are full of corn, melons, various other vegetables and also sunflowers, so hopefully I can go back then, as although it was stil very pretty with the sun and blue sky, brown would never beat fields and fields of sunflowers!

When dried, they look like walking sticks

Drying them out for sheep food.

We pulled up to Daisy’s house

Daisy’s house

and immediately I was introduced to the whole family. They have 3 generations under one house, very common in China so I met her grandparents as well as her parents, all of whom were lovely, despite the fact that they didn’t understand me and I didn’t understand them either!

3 generations…

No sooner had we arrived did I have food thrust upon me. This would become a regular occurrence as Daisy’s family seemed to eat all the time! This first meal was noodles that Daisy’s mother had prepared. They were delicious, but I was soon full but the whole family were continually telling me to eat! Later on in the afternoon, after teaching Daisy’s sister (actually cousin – due to the 1 child policy, children call their cousins brothers or sisters) to play Go Fish, and me trying and failing to eat sunflower seeds, I was invited to help make Jiǎozi, boiled dumplings, one of my favourite foods in China. This involved putting the meat mixture into the small dough circles Daisy’s mum was rolling out, and sealing them correctly. This meant that I had to get the correct amount of mixture into the dough first, which I managed to get pretty quickly, however the technique of folding the Jiǎozi took me a little more time to perfect, and even when I kind of got it, my dumplings still didn’t look like the ones Daisy’s aunt was making! I did my best though and they still tasted fantastic when they were bought out after cooking (remembering that only a couple of hours previously I was eating noodles…) but again I had to decline food, as there was just so much.

Going back to the sunflower seeds, they are a popular habit of the Chinese. You can often see them muching on them at bars, on buses and generally everywhere. These are obviously harvested  from the sunflowers, which they dry out the heads of to feed their sheep during winter, (being done so all over the area), so Daisy’s family never needs to buy them. However, unlike sunflower seeds I am sure we have at home, you cannot just put them in your mouth and chew. You have to crack open the shell to get at the seed in the middle. This is why I termed it a ‘habit.’ People don’t do this to fill themselves up, they do it instead of twiddling their thumbs. Some Chinese people even have a little indent on their front teeth where they crack open the sunflower seeds, as the best can do it without their hands. I am not accustomed, and find the pastime a little difficult, needing two hands, plus I see the seeds as food, but it’s such a chore to open them I can’t be bothered. They have even smaller seeds they do the same to, which I just cannot be bothered with either!

Anyway, after the Jiǎozi, I was asked if I would like to learn how to play Má jiàng (Mahjong).

Má jiàng – Courtesy of blog.travelpod.com

Having only ever played whatever the game is on Windows and knowing how popular this game is in China, I couldn’t refuse. I was very surprised when I found out that the Má jiàng I play on the computer is totally different to the actual one (though thinking about it, I should have known!). It is played with tiles, which each player (has to be four players) stacks into 3 rows of 11 in a square shape. A pair of die are then rolled to determine which tiles players will choose (though I didn’t understand how they worked it out!) and eventually you end up with 13 tiles in front of you. A turn involves picking a new tile up and either discarding that one, or another in your row of 13. The aim of the game is to eventually have 14 tiles which are pairs, threes or runs (you have 14 tiles as you will pick one up which will be your winner). It took me a little while to grasp some of the rules, but with Daisy’s mum’s, grandma’s and other random neighbour’s help, I actually managed to win a game, and also managed on my own too! However, when the older members were helping me, they seemed to have a different game plan to me, and were telling me to chuck pieces I wouldn’t have, but I owed to their infinitely better knowledge! Also, some of the numbers were in Traditional Characters, rather than Simplified which is used today, so I now know some of the older number characters too.

Talking of neighbours, word seemed to get around pretty quickly that I was in the village. I asked Daisy whether it was normal for so many neighbours to drop by, and she said yes, but also because I was there they seemed to come more frequently. I was introduced to Daisy’s grandpa’s brother’s son, her brother’s sister’s daughter and other random relatives who all lived in the village.  Again, I’m not sure whether they are relatives, or just called so, but it’s pretty funny and they were all interested in me. We had fireworks as the sun set, as it was the end of the first week of the New Year, so that was pretty fun.

I was further spoilt in regards to food, as for dinner we had hotpot. I simply love hotpot and again was fed to the brim with food. As soon as my bowl was empty, it was refilled by someone. The problem with hotpot is that you are not full until you stop eating, needless to say we all went to bed soon after, though not before going outside to see the stars. Absolutely stunning!

The next day we were woken up by Daisy’s mum saying it was time to eat. Crikey, so much food! We had hotpot for breakfast, a first for me, as there was so much food left over from the previous night. Not sure whether I’d have hotpot for breakfast again, but it was an experience and I wouldn’t ever turn it down. During breakfast, one of the many grandpa’s brother’s son relatives came with his daughter. They had both popped in the previous day and apparently the girl wanted a photo with me. I obliged, though was much embarrassed that I was seeming to be a celebrity in Daisy’s house, but the little girl was so friendly. 

After that charade, Daisy and I then went into Wǔ Yuán to meet up with one of her school classmates, her husband and his friend. Daisy was telling me that her friend’s dad had just bought her a new car and when Daisy had told her dad, he’d said he’d buy her a car, and got her an e-bike instead, funny man! Apparently this Hyundai Elantra cost 12,000¥ (£1,200 new!) I couldn’t believe it and explained that this same car would cost around £9,500 (95,000¥) new in the UK (via currency converter from US dollars!). Yes, probably because it’s an import, but come on, it’s not the greatest car in the world! Anyway, we headed to a lorry park, as Daisy’s friend’s husband and his friend were going to buy a new trailer or something, so we were hanging around in the car (it was freezing), as the men talked trucks. I presume it went ok as the friend left his truck there, but I didn’t ask questions. We then went for some lunch, which included some hot, melon flavoured milk. I was sceptical, but actually, it tasted really nice and I’m really hoping I can find it in the shops…

We headed back shortly afterwards and were given more food when we came back. This time, meat and rice, plus some really nice gooey, porridge tasting dumpling-cake things, which when teamed with sugar soon became my new favourite food! After this, we went for a walk around the village with girl who had appeared in the morning, her friend and Daisy’s sister.

Walking down the road

I managed to get some more nice shots of the village and the tree lined road.

Arty picture

The blue sky was spectacular and only confirmed that this place would be even more stunning with all the sunflowers out.

All the houses also have the red ‘Happy New Year’ posters outside the entrances, however we saw two which had yellow posters instead. Daisy explained that this meant that someone had died in the house the previous year. They would have to put up green posters the year after, before they would be allowed to have red ones again, really interesting custom. When we returned, we played some more Má jiàng and Go Fish and they taught me more Chinese card games and I taught them my version of ‘Donkey’ with a pack of playing cards.

Playing lots of card games, Chinese and English!

We ended up playing games for a good few hours, as soon more people came to watch the “waiguoren” (foreigner) play Má jiàng (again, I was getting advice left, right and centre). Daisy’s sister was also practising her English on me and it was all good. More noodles for dinner.

This morning we had noodles for breakfast, with meat and vegetables too. Again, it was very tasty but never before have I had noodles for breakfast! I had some photos taken with Daisy’s family,

With Daisy and her sister

which caused a lot of laughter and we left for the bus station soon afterwards, though not before the family had invited me back and let off fireworks (when someone leaves the house during Spring Festival time, it is a custom to let off fireworks). Daisy and I managed to get the last 2 seats on a bus to Dongsheng and we had a good time eating more sunflower seeds (a mighty fine way to distract yourself from a long bus journey!).

All in all I had a fantastic time living with Daisy’s family for such a short time and I definitely hope I can take them up on their offer of coming back! Daisy’s dad also said he was proud of her for bringing a foreigner to their house and letting everyone know about it! Now I still have trips to Xi’an and Beijing to look forward too.

And happy 5 months in China to me also!

(Currently 4-1 up vs Southend, yes!)

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Author: Bennett

2 years as an expat in China and now doing the same in New Zealand, Bennett sure likes to experience "slow travel!"

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1 Comment

  1. Glad to hear you have had such a great time. I loved all the stories about her familiy and the culture. And your photos were great too 🙂 Speak soon xxx

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