Today the group had an early start with an 8am buffet-style breakfast. Afterwards, we headed to the Inner Mongolia Museum where we met some high school seniors who would accompany us through the rest of the day. A tour guide then brought us through three exhibits of the Inner Mongolian history, starting with the prehistoric history. There were displays full of fossils as well as models of dinosaur skeletons that towered over our small group. Second, we learned about China’s journey towards space exploration which happened, for the most part, within the Inner Mongolian province. With the help of some surprisingly life-like mannequins, we saw how the people built launch pads and helped the cause of putting a man in space as well as some of the massive antennas used by the government to communicate with the space craft. We then proceeded to the third and final exhibit which gave a diverse look at the wildlife that populate Inner Mongolia today. From the king of the grasslands, wolves, to the fuzzy horned reindeer, the province holds an astounding amount of wildlife.
With the museum behind us, we headed to lunch which, as always, did not disappoint. We traveled to a Hohhot soccer team’s stadium which housed our lunch destination. The food was endless with the addition of a local drink made of a sour, orange berry. Next was the post office, where many postcards were sent to family back home. After the short stamp endeavor at the post office, we traveled to a 400-year-old Tibetan Buddhist temple which had been preserved because of its use as an ammunition depot during the Cultural Revolution. The temple was a complex of multiple smaller temples, each with its own praying purpose. The main gate was guarded by four gods who brought good fortune and prosperity to the area. In front of the main temple were two massive columns used twice a year to hold the large painting of the Buddha (which was also 400 years old). Each building held massive statues of different deities, elaborate woodwork colored with reds, golds, and deep indigo. One particular room had two dragon columns, made of rice, water, paper, and clay, that had survived since the founding of the temple. Right across the street from the temple was a shopping street, filled with vendors selling an assortment of merchandise. The students had an hour to shop for friends, family, or personal pleasure. A vendor caught the eye of multiple students who saw his work of painting pictures by burning them into leather. From there, with a quick pit stop at the hotel to drop off some items, we headed to dinner which was different than our dinners before because it was not in banquet style. Like breakfast, it was buffet-style with a variety of meats, fried doughs, and noodles.
With full stomachs we traveled to a local school where we conversed with the students about a variety of subjects: from American culture, food, and society, to why we were so tall and what our home towns were like. The two hours of conversation flew by and was over much too quickly. Before we left, the students sang us their school song beautifully. Sadly, there was not enough time for us to return the favor. Throughout the day, some of the seniors had filtered off back home and by the end of the night only two remained. We exchanged gifts with the lone survivors and said our final goodbyes before retreating into the hotel, ready for a rest. Tomorrow we have a long trek into the grasslands. (written by Jacob Kissell)