The Mongolian Steppe
Over the course of my stay in Beijing, I feel like I have become more and more assimilated into an increasingly drab urban life. Every morning, when I check the weather, I look out the window and am pleasantly shocked if I can see more than a hundred feet out of my window. The smog and highrises have become a facet of everyday life, no longer even worth mentioning. Everyone in the city seems to be hurrying, creating a frantic rhythm that seems to sweep me along in crowded trains and lawless stoplights. Some days, I even forget exactly how worried I should be about the air quality, and just accept Beijing’s hectic pace and cramped, smog filled skyline as the norm. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the sheer contrast Inner Mongolia’s grassland provided. Instead of a cramped, crowded city, I finally felt like I had space to myself, room to breathe and roam, and experience life at my own pace.
During our stay in Mongolia, we had many chances to experience a traditional Mongolian lifestyle, from riding horses across the wide open steppe, to trying out lamb, milk tea, and Mongolian cheese. As fun as these activities were, my favorite part of the trip came later that night. After the bonfire-turned-rave that followed the rave, I sat out on a hill overlooking our yurts and watched the storm roll in, with thunder crashing around the mountain, just as I imagine it did centuries ago. As much work as our hosts put into giving us an overview of their culture, I feel like the experience of watching nature at her angriest gave a deeper insight into the soul of Mongolian culture, forged in the face of sometimes crippling adversity, than any overview of their cooking and clothing ever could.
Touristiness aside, I was fascinated was how seamlessly our hosts adapted Mongolian culture to suit the tastes and needs of the tourists. Two star hotel yurts sat underneath a prayer mound that had stood for centuries, while horse jockeys wearing communist memorabilia bantered with a woman in costume inspired by fashions from a long gone dynasty. Although these contradictions served as a reminder that we were still in modern China, I personally considered them a guarantee that even the most modern Mongolians still valued their culture, and were willing to work to preserve it into the modern age.