Into the sand sea....
May 8, 2008
|Because our noses are pointy, our eyes wide open and we can't speak Mandarin we seem to draw a crowd of on lookers with almost everything we try to do. Please let us introduce you to the spectacle that is Meredith & Trevor in China:
1) Meredith & Trevor ordering food at a local restaurant - It is obvious that we are ready to order but cannot say exactly what we want. The entire restaurant staff begins to assemble around our table trying to decipher our mad pointing and broken attempts at Mandarin. Usually food is produced in front of us... often with meat in it... sometimes good, sometimes barely palatable. No matter what, it is a painful and prolonged interchange.
2) Meredith & Trevor buying train tickets - We join the end of the queue. Everyone who is not in line gathers on either side of the lineup eagerly awaiting the awkward conversation we are about to begin... Unfortunately for the crowd we came prepared! We have a calendar, the Chinese character of the city we want to go to and a repertoire of finely tuned signs describing the tickets we want. After a few laughs and a little more gawking, the crowd slowly dissipates.
3) Meredith & Trevor on the train - On extended train travel, there is not much to do. On one particularly long train trip (37 hours) two events stick out in our minds. We decided to play a couple of games of cribbage which obviously was a game Chinese people had never seen before. Five minutes in we had ten people crowded around our tiny board discussing in Chinese what the game could be. Hard to concentrate on your hand in this scenario. Later that day we realized that we needed to change our train tickets with the conductor... everything went fine until it came time to pay him the extra money we owed. In the end we successfully attracted the attention of everyone in the car (including people who jumped up to the top bunks for a better view) AND three train staff.. what a scene!!!!
4) Meredith & Trevor walking down the street - In cities where white people are a common sitting the staring and attention is minimal. However in places where the tourist infrastructure is underdeveloped it reaches unprecedented levels. As we walk down the street in some smaller cities here are some of the sites we have witnessed: people nearly falling off their bikes or motorcycles, conversations stopping mid-sentence, mouths dropping open, double takes, giggling, and sometimes plain old pointing and staring. We must look pretty weird!!! It really has given us a unique insight into how people with disabilities or deformities worldwide must feel.
Currently we are in Zhongwei which is in Ningxia province in the north of China. We came here to see the desert. After 50 hours of traveling (37 hour train, 10 hour bus, 3 hour bus), riding into the Tengger Desert by camel-back certainly felt like the mirage of the century. The Tengger Desert covers about 36,700 square km and is mostly made up of a beautiful sea of sand dunes. Despite its beauty, desertification in Northern China is a huge and looming problem. They say the Gobi desert is moving in on Beijing at an alarming 2 km per year! Already entire towns have been abandoned and have left environmental refugees numbering in the millions! Many villages around Zhongwei which we saw are trying desperately to ward off the influx of sand in order to maintain their agricultural lifestyles! The solutions that many have adopted is to build mud green houses for food and to plant as many trees as the desert can support.
Our desert expedition started with introductions to our camels, the camel leader (Mr. New) and our pregnant guide (LiPing). Since the camels had no names, we decided to give them names of our own... Trevor rode Queen Crusty, Meredith was on Little Miss Rasta, Liping rode Whiney Bitch, and Mr.New rode the Matriarch. We were amazed to learn that camels live into their 60s and that Queen Crusty and the Matriarch were 50+. You may or may not know that the reason camels have humps is so they can store excess water and food in the fatty bumps in order to cross deserts and arid landscapes. Consequently, they can go up to a week without water!!! Amazing animals!!! It wasn't long into our journey cross desert that we could see nothing but rolling sand dunes in all directions... it was a truly unique and eerie feeling. The first night's camp was set up in a low spot between several high dunes. There was protection from the wind and some grass for the camels to eat. Our horrible, MSG filled gruel like dinner was washed down with warm beer. Our spirits were lifted again however when we climbed up a nearby dune to watch the sun set over the sea of sand. The descending sun cast incredible shadowy and dramatic lighting! A photographers dream!!!
The next day after packing up our tents and repacking onto the camels, we set off for another day of desert exploration. We were a bit disappointed to see the industrial park appear out of nowhere half way through our day... however, that's China! As part of a plan to present a 'greener' and progressive China to the world in August many of Beijing’s big polluters have been relocated to the desert! The air may be cleaner and the skies bluer in Beijing, but at a cost! The sun was seriously intense and as the day wore on, the wind began to pick up! By the time we set up camp at four, we had to take refuge almost immediately in our tent to avoid the stinging sand storm that was brewing (even though our tent had mesh sides half way up, it was better than having the sand directly on us. A somewhat LESS enjoyable evening followed... The sand storm raged on all night and when we got up in the morning EVERYTHING was covered in a layer of sand! Luckily we thought to stuff toilet paper into our ears and noses so they didn't fill up with sand! A LONG night to say the least!
All in all an amazing experience! We definitely got our fill of deserts and camels! Next we are off to Xi'an, the ancient capital of China to see the Terracotta Warriors!!!