Monday, August 03, 2009

They Have 1,500 Sheep

Jumping back into the milk truck, this time we had six people instead of five. So you can imagine how much tighter things were for the four of us adults up front!

We bumped our way maybe another ten kilometers out into the grasslands, heading toward a piece of land our hosts described as geng piaoliang ("even more beautiful!").

Our destination, it turned out, was a ranch where much of the herding and other hard farm work takes place on a daily (really, never ending) basis. It was outside this ranch where we saw enormous numbers of sheep being moved from one gigantic fenced field to another. How many sheep were there in all? According to son (as we'll call him), we were looking at a total of about 1,500 sheep. Wow!

Now who is this "son"? This is daughter's older brother. Like daughter, son goes to school in Hohhot, the distant capital of Inner Mongolia. Unlike daughter, son is in college, attending Mengda (Inner Mongolia University). His major is dongwu kexue. Do you want to guess what that is? Perhaps not surprisingly, given his family heritage, son is studying animal science.

As we wandered our way around the ranch and surrounding fields, we encountered visual evidence of all kinds of chores that are part of life on this particular working farm. In this vein, can you guess what that pile way in the background of the bottom picture is made of? Despite the presence of that lone cow standing there, what you are looking at is not cow manure at all...Actually, it's neatly stacked sheep manure. (The cow manure was just as meticulously arranged in a different pile about fifty yards away.)

Eventually, it was time for us to begin the long journey back to our little yurt village, as it was getting to be rather late in the afternoon. Thankfully, driver and daughter graciously agreed to bring us all the way back. Make no mistake...This was no small offer. We were maybe thirty kilometers away, and it takes a long, long time to cover such a distance when the road ahead (and back!) is full of bumps and gullies.

Arriving at our home base, there was one last treat in store for the four of us. You see, driver insisted on taking us all the way up to the front gate of the village, up the long driveway. Now, it just so happened that, at that very moment, dozens and dozens of people were gathered at the gate, engaged in some orchestrated activities. Driver pulled right up into the middle of the group and onto the grassy median (if you can call the side of a dirt road a median!). As you might imagine, there was lots of oohing and aahing when four waiguoren jumped out of a working milk truck, and stood there exchanged goodbyes with a pair of local farmers. Trust us, we really enjoyed the moment. Scratch that. We really enjoyed the whole day, the whole experience, from start to finish. And it was all thanks to one family of Mongolian farmers who didn't mind taking time out of their busy day to entertain their unanticipated guests, their visitors who just showed up unannounced on their doorstep. Wow!

~Steve

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