I settled into my seat on the bus and browsed through our Lonely Planet guidebook.
This afternoon we should get to the Genghis Khan Mausoleum, not really a tomb since he isn't buried there, but a memorial to him, sacred to the Mongolian people.
Dad said, "Let me see that." He skimmed the guidebook. "Are you sure we can get there?"
I read the passage again. Dad said, "No, I think that the village near the mausoleum is not Wushengqi. I think it's a different village." We were on a bus to Wushengqi.
We bought a map of Inner Mongolia when we went to see the trees in EjiNa last year. Time to consult it.
Wushengqi, Yulin and Genghis Khan's Mausoleum form a triangle, with Wushengqi to the far west and our target to the north. We are going the wrong way.
Well, we reasoned, there must be another bus from Wushengqi that must go to the mausoleum.
We took the two hour trip through the arid plains of outer China ( I slept) and ended up in a one-street town. This was Wushengqi.
We walked out of the dusty corral that served as the bus station and mostly ignored the laughing taxi drivers offering to drive us to a bigger town for 600 RMB. "Why are you here?" they asked. They had no confidence in their hometown as being a tourist destination, it seemed, and neither did we.
We wandered around the square by the bus station. I noticed a hotel, in case there were no buses out. I noticed a grocery store. We were in search of a restaurant. It was lunchtime and a bathroom break was also in order.
We walked by a few small noodle restaurants, all deserted. Wasn't noon lunchtime here too? Or was the town just shut down?
On the corner there was a 15-foot tall extremely faded billboard showing various things to do around Wushengqi. I tried to read the Chinese but mostly pictures guided us. A picture of a man fishing. A picture of an archaeological site. A picture of a temple. How far away were these things? We asked a man nearby. He didn't know.
We crossed the road and settled at a clean-looking restaurant directly across from the bus station. It had green signage and big holes in the tables for hotpots. Mongolian Hot Pot. We'd been meaning to try it in Inner Mongolia anyway.
The waitress was more understanding than usual and helped us order what she thought would taste good—a bone soup base and mutton and beef and vegetables to add to it. We got a platter of vegetables as a cold starter and three plates of mysterious, extremely salty sauces to dip the meat in after it cooked in the broth. She showed us the straws for sucking the marrow and juices out of the leg bones in the pot. Delicious.
We ordered local beer, and, after some confusion about which beers were local and which weren't, got some Snowdeer, which is brewed in or near Baotou.
We were enjoying our meal in peace, ready to make the most out of Inner Mongolia even if we didn't actually make it to Genghis Khan's Mausoleum, when the invaders came.
"Huanying pengyoumen! (Welcome, friends)!" A man, beaming and weaving a little from side to side, came up to us. He had a half-empty red-labeled bottle of baijiu--rice spirits-- and a waitress scurried over with five shotglasses.
This was the owner, surnamed Feng, who wanted to show us some Mongolian hospitality, ie alcohol.
My parents had tried baijiu the first time they came to China, but so far I had protected them from ganbei culture.
Ganbei is usually translated as “cheers” but really means “dry your glass”--when the ganbeis start flying, one toast is followed by another, and small shotglasses of 80 proof alcohol are drained faster than happy sentiments are expressed.
Baijiu is an acquired taste. Baijiu seems always to be gulped, not sipped, and so hits the back of the throat like a two-dollar vodka. It has a faintly sweet taste, like the artificial flavoring in cheap ice-cream, that lingers in the mouth after drinking and wrinkles the nose on the first shot. The third shot is easier, but the fourth always makes me crave a chaser, which is not generally provided.
The first toast was Feng's, of course.
"Welcome foreign friends. I hope you enjoy your meal."
The next, was ours. "Thank you for your wonderful food. This is feichang hao (very good)."
The third, back to him. "Welcome to Inner Mongolia!"
The fourth, ours. "What a great restaurant you have. You must be very successful."
Back to him, telling my mother she was pretty. The first bottle was finished.
He called for another, on the house.
Our turn, we complimented his staff.
His turn, he tried to sell us on a fishing trip to some reservoir nearby.
Our turn, we thanked him profusely, but told him we had urgent business elsewhere (namely, anywhere away from baijiu).
His turn, he brought up his brother, working in Guangzhou. Because he is far away and depending on strangers, Feng wants to be nice to travelers. By now, he was mixing Mongolian dialect with Mandarin. Neither Dan nor I could understand him.
We toasted his kindness, and told him in my alcohol-improved Mandarin about our good experiences with the warm-hearted Chinese people.
Dad organized some beer to be brought as a respite from the baijiu. Much better, we figured.
We drank that with the staff, with the manager, with random people who showed up from the street. We took pictures with anyone who wanted them.
Finally, we caught the last bus out of town for Dongsheng. We didn't make it to Genghis Khan's mausoleum, but we figure his ancestors are holding down the fort for him.