Saturday, July 25, 2009

Setting Shifu Free

After a day in Manzhouli, it was time for the main event. We met up with the driver the travel agency had arranged for us, and headed out into the countryside. Within minutes, there we were, surrounded by the beauty of the Hulunbeier grasslands.

The ride out on the highway was gorgeous, and featured a stop along the way to look at the cows, sheep, and horses grazing by the roadside. This break also allowed shifu (our driver) the chance to puff on a cigarette while waiting for us.

When we finally pulled into the place we would call home for the next few days, shifu helped us get checked in and arranged lunch for us. There we sat, the five of us, chatting and eating away. When shifu went out for his smoking breaks, the conversation among the four of us turned to how we should go about giving shifu his freedom.

You see, shifu indicated that after lunch he would spend the afternoon in a town an hour or so away, and then he would meet back up with us. We were quickly getting the impression that there were five beds set up in our yurt for a reason!

Upon shifu's return, he and I had a conversation, in Chinese, that went something like this...

Me: So the four of us will be sleeping for the next two nights out here in the grasslands.

Shifu: What about me?

Me: You can go home now.

Shifu: Really?

Me: The four of us will spend the next couple of days having fun out here.

Shifu: How will you get back to Manzhouli?

Me: You can come pick us up in two days and bring us back.

Shifu: OK.

Before this arrangement was finalized, shifu had to make some requisite phone call, presumably to the travel agency to clear this apparent breach in protocol. After a few minutes of conversation, shifu came back over to us, handed us several hundred kuai in meal money, and said goodbye.

This was an arrangement that I think made everybody happy. Shifu did not have to spend the next three days living with a waiguoren family, but could instead return to his own home. As for us, we had finally achieved what we set out to do...To be out there in the middle of the grasslands on our own terms, free to go for hikes, watch the sunrise, and enjoy some quality family time together without the distractions of the modern world.



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