Monday, August 03, 2009

Our Mongolian Meal

After those magic words (jin lai ba) had been uttered, we walked onto the property of the family of our new driver friend. As we approached the house, Ma Ma (as we'll call her) came on out and welcomed us to drop our packs and make ourselves at home. In the meantime, driver (as we'll call him) ran out into the fields, where there were seemingly hundreds of cows grazing and, in the distance, even greater numbers of sheep being herded.

As we were getting comfortable, Ma Ma asked us if we were hungry. "Sure!" we answered in unison. "Great," came Ma Ma's reply, "We will all eat some special Mongolian food together."

Are you kidding me!? This is exactly what we were hoping for. The chance to sit down with a Mongolian family, way out in the middle of the grasslands, and just enjoy some time together. It had taken a flight to Manzhouli, a difficult-to-arrange excursion out to an imitation yurt village, and a five-hour hike along a desolate dirt road. It hadn't been easy, but we had finally found what we were looking for!

Before too long, out from the fields came driver, now accompanied by a young woman. It turns out that this was daughter (as we'll call her). Daughter is nineteen years old (by Chinese reckoning), and she is about to enter into her senior year of high school. How does one attend high school when one lives in a village that has a total of about one hundred houses? Well, you get on a bus and ride for something like nine hours to Hohhot, the capital of Inner Mongolia. Daughter, you see, is home for summer vacation. A vacation that entailed, at least on this day, getting up at 4:30 in the morning to milk the cows.

As we all sat around talking, some of the neighbors popped their heads in, most of them too shy to get engaged in the conversation. But that was all right by us. We were just happy to be sitting in the shade, eating some watermelon, and using the facilities. (By the way, the "facilities" are shown in the second picture. This arrangement was no problem for us on a bright blue sunny day. But the winters in the grasslands get downright frigid, with Inner Mongolia being just over the border from Russia and those ferocious Siberian winds. How do you use the facilities when all that snow is happening out there?)

Now what about all of that special Mongolian food? First off, there was fresh lamb, eaten right off the bone. This is a case where the word "fresh" is certainly not being used lightly! Then there were delicious servings of yogurt that came with some kind of small, corn-like kernels floating in our bowls. These were foods that, although vaguely familiar, we had never eaten before, at least not prepared in these particular ways.

And the surroundings themselves were unbeatable. Green fields stretching out into the horizon. Blue blue skies with white white puffy clouds. Cows, horses, and sheep dotting the landscape. So it should come as no surprise as to what our answer was when an offer was made (our bellies satiated) for driver and daughter to take us out even deeper into the grasslands...

~Steve

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