| Alfred C. Snider | April 15-16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 2001| Other Journals | Debate Central |
I awaken in Inner Mongolia knowing that this is my last day here, so I am determined to make the best of it. As usual I have a hearty Mongolian breakfast downstairs, work on my journal, listen to some .mp3s on my PowerBook, and then go downstairs to read China Daily in English. I am famished for diverse news sources, as just reading China Daily isn't doing it for me. I checked out of the Yi Tai Hotel.
Sun Fei and Zhang Hui arrive with a car and driver and we head off to try and see the museum we had missed the day before. After that I will meet up with Juefei (who arrived by train that morning), have lunch with he and others, watch his lecture he will deliver this afternoon while receiving an honor, have dinner with university officials, and then catch the evening "Night Train" to Beijing.
Street market scenes, Hohhot, Old Town
We drive straight to the Inner Mongolia Peoples' Museum only to find that it doesn't open until 10 AM, so we have a walk around a long block to catch the street culture and the vibe of Hohhot. Construction is everywhere, this is the center of town, and it looks like many other modern Chinese towns. Marco Polo's accounts of China were largely dismissed in Europe because of the size he attributed to Chinese cities, and now I understand why. Hohhot is not a major Chinese city, and it is located in Inner Mongolia, but it still has 1.6 million people in it. Someday I vow to make it to the real rural China, like the Inner Mongolian grasslands and the Meo nationality district of Yunnan. Next time, perhaps. During the walk I realize I am becoming more and more attached to these wonderful students, with their sharp and inquiring minds and their charm.
We arrive back at the museum just as it opens. During this morning we will try and look at three different wings -- the famous dinosaur and fossil exhibit (with the largest dinosaur skeleton in Asia), the exhibit of Chinese nationalities, and the exhibit of the Revolutionary Struggle in Inner Mongolia (1925-49).
Giant Bronto (without morphing) | Dino family found in same pit
We start with the dinosaur and fossil exhibit. Inner Mongolia is one of the leading fossil beds for prehistoric remains in the entire world, and the exhibit shows it. Especially impressive are the huge dinosaur bones, including one impressive find where the dinosaurs died together in a sudden cataclysm, and the study of which led to the conclusion that they lived in communities and raised their young cooperatively. Of course, the main attraction here is a huge brontosaurus skeleton, which towers inside a huge room. I am unable to get it all in one picture, so it takes two shots. I realize now that I should have had one of the students stand next to the leg bone so you could see how gigantic it is, clearly over 40 feet tall from the floor to the top of its head. The room seems to have been specifically constructed to house this huge bronto.
We then move to the nationalities exhibit, which features many of the Chinese nationalities, but specifically those who are in Inner Mongolia. There are numerous displays of Mongolian customs and culture. I ask the students about how Han Chinese get along with these nationalities, not so much officially but on an everyday basis. They clai9m that cooperation is high, discrimination does not exist, and that even teasing is very rare. Suspicious I pursue it further, and Zhang Hui talks about how the women in her suite are from several different nationalities yet they have grown to love and cherish each other. They note that intermarriage is common and even older parents are not opposed to marriage between nationalities, which means a lot to me because the moment of marriage is, as far as I can tell, the ultimate moment in anyone's life. I decide to let them assuage my skepticism.
Finally, we look in on the revolutionary Struggle in Inner Mongolia exhibit. The Communist Party was first organized in Inner Mongolia in 1925 to oppose the persistence of feudalism in China, In then1930s the Japanese occupied the more prosperous areas of Chins but had difficulties occupying distant a far flung Inner Mongolia, with constant resistance from the party, During this period the "Reds" were able to form a government there, but there was a period of counter revolutionary rule of the "Whites" (Kuo Min Tang), but the "Reds" were able to regain control, and joined with the national communist victory in 1949. Points of interest in the exhibit included memorials to martyred heroes of the revolution, secret code books used by the "Reds," guns and other artifacts of struggle, and revolutionary art. My companions seemed particularly interested in this section and had a lot to add to what I was seeing.
It was getting close to noon so it was time for us to move on to our lunch date. We drove back to the campus and there I met up with Chen Yao and Wang Juefei. We checked into simple dorm rooms in their international exchange center so that we would have a base of operations for the day, and then went on over to the restaurant.
It was a star studded cast at lunch, with the university President, the head of the Education Department, the Foreign Language Department, Party Secretary Liang, Wang Juefei, and a number of other notables. The conversation was stimulating and rapid fire. The dishes were more exotic than before, with a very interesting whole fish, a delicious succulent eel, and a soup containing an entire turtle. The toasts of the fiery Mongolian liquor were coming fast and furious, with Chen Yao encouraging me to drink because I had the rest of the day off. I drank as much as seemed hospitable, matching toast for toast and especially responding to the signals given by the President, and drank more than I otherwise would but not enough to make it a problem. I usually drink very little in the USA, so it did seem out of the ordinary. My Chinese name (now shortened by Chen Yao and Wang Juefei to "Lo Ai" meaning "Always Love," just as Juefei was "Lo Wang" and Chen Yao was "Lo Chen" to show we were very familiar and friendly to each other) was the common form of address. The President asked about the debate program the students would be attending and seemed very interested in it, and the words "bian lun" (debate in Chinese) were often heard. The other purpose of the meal was to honor Wang Juefei, a famous graduate of Inner Mongolia Normal University.
After the lunch we said goodbye and made our way back to the International Exchange Center for a brief rest before heading off to Juefei's lecture.
We gathered and made the walk across campus to the lecture site, a new classroom building near the library. When we got to the room it was standing room only, with over 250 there to hear his lecture on the role of creativity in American education which would be delivered in Chinese. Ms. Zhao was there and offered to translate for me.
Crown at Juefei's lecture | Wang Juefei lectures in Inner Mongolia
The lecture was informal and Juefei had quest5ioned passed to him during the lecture so that he could make sure the audience was on board. He showed many pictures of various types of American classroom spaces to show visually how the e3ducational environment was structured to facilitate independent student work, group work, and open communication patterns. The audience was very attentive. Over 30 principals and school administrators from local schools were in the audience. It seemed to be a huge success.
After the lecture we went to the library so that Juefei and I could have our pictures taken with the principals, administrator4s,mand organizers of the event. I was honored to meet Juefei's teacher while he had been an undergraduate at IMNU, and she was a charming woman. The pictures were snapped and then we had to hurry back to our favorite restaurant for a quick dinner before we had to go to the airport.
Principals and School Administrators after Juefei's lecture | Posters on the IMNU campus
The dinner was jolly and was meant to honor Juefei. The toasts were a bit more reserved and consisted of beer as opposed to the clear Mongolian liquor. Juefei was presented with gifts, including a beautiful cashmere shirt which he seemed to really like. Chen Yao and Mr. Liang seemed happy, and Chen Yao and I had some interesting personal conversations as it became clear to me that he and I were really becoming friends.
Where I ate - Academic Garden | Street scene, Hohhot, Old Town
Before we knew it we had to leave to go to the airport and catch our flight to Beijing. As I left the restaurant I snapped a photo of where all my lunches and dinners had taken place during my short stay in Inner Mongolia. I managed to snap a few photos of street scenes in Old Town Hohhot.
We arrived at the modern airport with only minutes to spar to check in (30 minutes before flight time) and we got through check in, security check, etc. quickly even though one of the computers was out of order. As we got to the security check we said goodbye to our friends from Inner Mongolia, and Chen Yao gave me a strong hug, something welcomed as I have become very fond of him, but also something unusual for acquaintances of so short a time. Something tells me that I will be working with Chen Yao again, and he invited me to return to Inner Mongolia soon.
The flight was full but I knew it would be short, so it was quite tolerable. The mix of business persons, tourists, and others was interesting to observe, and for the first time I saw Russian and other western travelers.
We arrived in Beijing right on schedule and hustled through baggage before trying to catch a taxi into town. The airport was packed full, but Juefei managed to get us a large car as taxi right away. We zoomed into town.
Our destination was the Beijing Hard Rock Café. One of our American party was having a birthday and there was a surprise party for him at Hard Rock. As we got to Hard Rock I told Juefei that I would rather take all of the bags back to the hotel instead of hauling them all around the Hard Rock Café. Also, I didn't really want to hang at the Hard Rock, and would rather just wander the streets looking at and learning about China. He agreed, and went into the club to tell them as well as get my room key from my roomie Jim while I waited with the taxi. As I waited I saw some of our American party walking down the street, including the birthday boy, Dean. Juefei appeared and briefed the taxi driver, and soon I was off for the hotel.
I arrived at the hotel, got my bags (and Juefei's bags) up to the room, and settled in. I got some water to drink and took a short walk (everything still bustling) before returning to the room to work on my journal and wait for Juefei. Juefei soon arrived and took his bags. I worked for a while longer and then watched some Chinese television.
Chinese television is very interesting. There seem to be about nine national networks (China Central Television, CCTV) and a number of other networks. There were also a few foreign channels, most of them sports channels showing things like international football and NBA highlights. I had learned to try and watch the CCTV-4 English language news at 11 PM. I found it about as pro-China biased as American news is pro-America biased. The reports on the Bush decisions on arms sales to Taiwan and national missile defense were hot topics, as well as the accusations against Philippine former president Estrada. There were many dramatic offerings, with contemporary dramas set in modern China, historical dramas set in China's past, game shows, documentaries, martial arts dramas (with clearly comic overtones), and even some western dramas which had been dubbed in Chinese. The graphics on Chinese television are much more dramatic and intricate than we are used to on western television. The colors seem brighter and the aesthetic clearly different. I really enjoyed watching the commercials, with their fast pace and brilliant graphics. I finally turned the set off and went to sleep, realizing that the end of my tourney was quickly approaching.